Two Hezbollah members sentenced to life in connection with Hariri murder
After 16 years and a billion dollars, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon issues its final verdict in connection with the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. His son Saad slams Hezbollah “for organising and carrying out the crime”. The sentences were pronounced in absentia and it is unlikely that those found guilty will ever serve time.
Beirut (AsiaNews) – Set up in 2006 by the United Nations, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) yesterday sentenced two more alleged Hezbollah members, Hassan Habib Merhi and Hussein Oneissi, to life imprisonment for their involvement in the attack that claimed the life of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on 14 February 2005.
The two men were “fully aware that the planned attack involved the killing of Mr Hariri,” reads the judgement by the Appeals Chamber presided by Judge Ivana Hrdličková.
“The punishment is [. . .] clearest in terms of condemning Hezbollah as the party responsible for organising and carrying out the crime,” tweeted Saad Hariri, son of Rafik Hariri and a former prime minister himself.
At the end of the first trial (2020), the court convicted Salim Ayyash, but ruled that there was not enough evidence to convict three other defendants, Assad Sabra, Hussein Oneissi and Hassan Habib Merhi. The prosecution appealed the acquittals of the last two.
It should be noted that Salim Ayyash is still at large, since Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah decided to ignore the STL's verdicts. Barring surprise, the same will happen to the two new convicts.
As for Mustapha Badreddine, who some consider the mastermind of the attack against Rafik Hariri, he was reportedly killed on the night of 12-13 May 2016, near Damascus airport, possibly by an Israeli airstrike. He is buried in Beirut.
With Oneissi and Merhi sentenced, it’s the last call for the STL, which sits near The Hague (Netherlands). It was originally set up following an agreement between the United Nations and Lebanon under Security Council Resolution 1664 of 29 March 2006.
The tribunal is now expected to shut down because of lack of funding. Since it was established in 2009, it raked up a bill estimated at between US$ 600 million and US billion.
Murder of the man who decrypted the attackers’ communication
Former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was killed when a suicide bomber blew up a van full of explosives as his armoured convoy drove through Beirut, killing 21 others and injuring 226. The attack sparked massive protests that led to Syria's departure from Lebanon after a 29-year military presence.
Initially blamed on Syria, the attack’s perpetrators were eventually identified a few years later thanks to the work of Wissam Eid, a senior intelligence official within the Internal Security Forces of Lebanon, who managed to decrypt telephone data linked to the assassination.
He showed that, thanks to antenna relays and the geolocation of mobile phones, a number of devices monitored the route of Rafik Hariri's six-car convoy, just ahead of his assassination and went silent a couple of two minutes before the attack.
On 25 January 2008, Wissam Eid was himself killed by a car bomb as he made his way to the Lebanese headquarters of the STL’s Commission of Inquiry, chaired at the time by Canadian Daniel Bellemare.
Subsequently, according to the German weekly Der Spiegel, telephone data analysis led investigators to eight mobile phones, all purchased on the same day in Tripoli, northern Lebanon.
These devices were very often close to each other and in contact with 20 other phones, that belonged, according to Lebanese investigators, to Hezbollah’s “operational arm”.
Investigators identified the holder of one of the first eight phones, thanks to a call he made to his girlfriend, but they did not know where he was, or even if he was alive, the weekly noted.
Subsequently, Der Spiegel reported that the four Hezbollah operatives targeted by the STL indictment had travelled to Iran in 2004, a year before the attack, where they underwent military training near the city of Qom.
“The people running the training camp, supervised by the al-Quds Brigades and with the participation of Syrian intelligence, even reconstructed the crime scene," Der Spiegel wrote.
Naturally, Hezbollah has dismissed all these claims as "a plot" and blames Israel for the attack.